Given the West Highland Way finishes in Fort William, it’d be rude not to climb ‘the Ben’ whilst in the area – or that was our thinking, at any rate. Standing at 1,345 metres above sea level (a dwarf compared to many peaks in Europe, but a giant by British standards), Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the UK – and the only one of the Three Peaks we hadn’t yet summited.
Conveniently, Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park is located a hop, skip and a bridge away from the Mountain Track, which leads to the summit of Ben Nevis. Having seen hordes of hikers beetling up the path the previous day, we decided an early start would be advantageous. There are only a handful of things that I’ll wake up at the crack of dawn for, and mountains are one of them.
Our alarms woke us up at six on the dot, and after a hot breakfast of instant oats with raisins we set off. Upon reaching the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, we hit go on Laurence’s Garmin and joined the Mountain Track. There were a few early risers making their way up (and further up, some even earlier risers already making their way down), and a handful of trail runners, but on the whole it was pretty peaceful.
Not far from the ‘halfway loachen’ (which in fact isn’t the halfway point), we inadvertently went off piste and I ended up sticking my foot in a bog. (I wish I could say that’s the first time I’d caked my foot in mud, but sadly it’s something that’s happened on several occasions!) We rejoined the path shortly after, crossed the waterfall which marks the halfway point and started up the zigzags which lead to the summit plateau.
As we approached the last of the zigzags, heavy cloud rolled in, thick and fast, obscuring the view of the glen below. Onwards and upwards, we decided, taking care to follow the cairns now that visibility was close to zilch.
We passed a couple of snowdrifts en route to the summit plateau; even in the height of summer, you can still experience all four seasons whilst tackling the UK’s highest peak. Keeping Gardyloo Gully, a sheer drop shrouded in cloud, to our left, we pressed on towards the trig point.
Just shy of the summit, we came upon the remains of the Ben Nevis observatory, which was in operation from 1883 to 1904. Ponies carried supplies and construction materials to the summit (hence the Mountain Track’s nickname the Pony Track) and, once constructed, meteorologists lived at the observatory dutifully recording conditions at the summit.
We didn’t stay at the top for long, as the wind was howling around us (and wouldn’t have had much trouble blowing us over, if the truth be told) and it was pretty darn cold. Out came the celebratory Lion bars (I’d forgotten just how tasty they were!), and down we went.
By mid-morning, every walker and his dog was on the Mountain Track, and getting down, at times, proved more of a challenge than getting up. We came across a fair number of obnoxious path-hoggers (think the sort with walking poles strapped horizontally to their bag, so they almost hit you in the face as you pass them) on our way, alongside others who were inexplicably leaving their bags and coats by the side of the path and continuing up the mountain without them.
We took a short snack break at Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, and then motored down the mountain in pursuit of a hot shower back at the campsite. We made it up and down the Ben in just shy of 5 hours 15 minutes, and after freshening up back at base we headed off to the aptly-named Ben Nevis Inn for lunch. Their Cajun chicken ciabattas were oh-so-tasty, and just what we needed after a brisk morning walk.
- The weather can turn quickly on the Ben, so make sure you come prepared. There are still a heck of a lot of (mostly preventable) accidents each year on the mountain, so don’t be too proud to turn back if you feel out of your depth.
- More often than not, there’s a steady stream of walkers making their way up the Mountain Track, but it’s just as well to be armed with a map (the OS Explorer 392 is the one you’ll need). Make sure you know your bearings too, as there are some nasty gullies near the top that can be hard to spot in thick cloud.